Others say Washington has more time than that.
"The fact they can't get along for the month of January is not going to torpedo the economy," he said.
Chief executives warn of the damaging effects of uncertainty on their investment and hiring decisions. Many investors have focused on the risk of a new recession if the cliff is not addressed. And tumbling stock prices can add to the sense of panic and hurt both business and consumer confidence.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the tax hikes and spending cuts would amount to $600 billion in 2013 and could cause the U.S. economy to contract by nearly 3 percent in the first half of the year.
But that does not mean the pain begins automatically at the start of January.